Fire Fighting in Canada

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Ontario municipalities oppose IAFF two-hatter policy

Sept. 19, 2014, Toronto – The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) wants the province’s firefighting legislation amended so that career firefighters who work part time in their home communities can not be fired from their full-time jobs for doing so.

September 19, 2014
By Laura King

Sept. 19, 2014, Toronto – The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) wants the province’s firefighting legislation amended so that career firefighters who work part time in their home communities can not be fired from their full-time jobs for doing so.

“These volunteers should be supported, not pressured for wanting to protect their neighbours in their home communities,” AMO says in a notice on its website.

The International Association of Fire Fighters constitution prohibits its members from working for two departments – full-time for one and part-time for another – if the second department is also unionized by the IAFF. In Ontario, firefighters in most volunteer departments are paid on call.

“The union does not object to full-time firefighters working other jobs, which many do,” AMO notes.

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AMO has posted a draft resolution on its site that municipal councils can pass, asking the province to amend the Fire Protection and Prevention Act.

Ontario and Newfoundland are the only provinces without legislation that prohibits municipalities from firing career firefighters who also volunteer.

Part-time firefighters in Orangeville, Caledon, Innisfil and other small communities have left their local departments over the last few years after being put on notice by the IAFF.
 
Toronto firefighter Tom Hunse disagrees with the union’s position that he should be fired from his job with Toronto Fire Services (TFS) because he also works in Innisfil. Innisfil is a composite department with unionized career firefighters and part-time firefighters. Hunse is taking the matter to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

AMO says it has asked for intervenor status in the case, as has the Town of Innisfil.

“Over the years, union charges have been brought against individuals who are double hatters and as a result, [they] generally stop their involvement as a volunteer,” AMO says.

“Double hatters want to protect family, friends and the community where they live and are an important backbone of fire services within smaller municipalities and its loss proves challenging. Many double hatters were volunteer firefighters before becoming salaried professionals.”

Ontario union president Carmen Santoro said Friday in a phone interview from the IAFF executive board meeting in Colorado Springs that the constitution prohibits career firefighters from working part-time for other composite departments but does not target firefighters who volunteer in small, rural communities in which there are no unionized career firefighters.

“It’s only in cases in which that part-time employment adversely affects another local,” he said.

He also said the IAFF is worried about two hatters being exposed to more toxins and contracting occupational diseases.

“And who pays when that happens?” he said.

The IAFF’s Canadian representative, Scott Marks, told Fire Fighting in Canada in an interview that ran the magazine in April 2013 that the association’s members voted on the two-hatter issue and that there has never been a resolution by a Canadian local to change it.

“With budget cuts and municipalities looking at other ways to deliver their fire service I think you’re going to see it be more of an issue, not less of an issue,” he said.

Marks said problems occur when there are major incidents – such as an ice storm – when a career department needs all its members, which leaves a shortage of members to staff outlying volunteer departments.

“It comes down to one thing,” Marks said. “If you’re looking at a municipality using part-time firefighters and they’re relying on professional firefighters working part-time, then there’s something wrong.

“If they need that level of reliance then they need to consider a full-time professional department or some other mechanism.”

AMO disagrees.

“This is a matter of fairness and personal liberty,” AMO says, “as firefighters should be able to use their free time as they wish to without reprisal or interference.”

AMO wants municipal councils to send the resolution to Premier Kathleen Wynne, Attorney General Madeline Meilleur, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, and ministers Yasir Naqvi and Kevin Flynn, who are responsible for community safety and housing.

“A simple change to provincial law would prevent this type of union interference,” AMO says.

“It is time for Ontario to give our volunteer firefighters the same freedom and protection that other employees in Ontario enjoy, as well as those fire fighters everywhere else in the nation.”

It’s not clear why the IAFF is pursing Hunse now; he has volunteered with Innisfil for 26 years, four years longer than he has worked for TFS. Santoro said the union will pursue any situation that comes to its attention.

“We have to,” he said. “It’s in our constitution.”

The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association was expected to put out a statement about the matter Friday afternoon.

The City of Toronto has not commented on the union’s request to have Hunse dismissed. Arbitration is scheduled for October.